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    24 Types of Containers used in International Shipping

    24 Types of Containers used in International Shipping

    While dispatching a shipment, packing the product with caution is considered the best practice. The idea is to load it in a way that makes minimum movements and has required durable support. Scaling this to international consignments, the products are to be dispatched in a manner that they can bear the troubles of the transit and reach the designated place while maintaining their quality and quantity no matter what the weather conditions might be. This is where the shipping containers come into the picture.

    What are shipping containers?

    Shipping containers are storage units used to move products from one location to another without damaging them or other products within the consignment. These containers are reusable that can withstand the challenges posed during the transit. Shipping containers help reduce the cost of transportation to a great extent, making it possible to have long-distance trade. The introduction of shipping containers had made a considerable impact on the globalization of trade and businesses.

    Types of shipping containers

    1. Intermodal Containers

    Benefits of Intermodal Container

    Intermodal containers derive their name from the flexibility of usage in different modes of transport. These containers are large in size and often standardized in design. It can be used for any medium of transport such as ship, rail, and truck without affecting the cargo.

    Intermodal Containers can be broadly categorized into the following types:

    General Purpose container / Standard containers

    - Definition: General-purpose shipping containers are the most frequently utilized containers in the trade business. Mostly, the mode of transportation is by sea or land. These containers are incredibly durable and airtight. They are made of atmospheric corrosion resistant steel with protected corners to let the vessel have an exposed stacking up to 8 containers height.

    - Types:

    1. Standard General Purpose Containers
    2. Refrigerated General Purpose Containers
    3. Side Open General Purpose Containers
    4. Double Door General Purpose Containers

    Dry freight containers / Dry Storage containers

    - Definition: Dry Freight containers are airtight containers and they do not have a ventilation system. They can not be used to transport liquid goods. They are also referred to as Dry Cargo Containers and commonly used to ship nonperishable goods.

    - Types: The dimensions and types of the containers are standardized and the variations can be as per the customizations made by the owner or the provider.

    Insulated or Thermal container

    - Definition: Perishable goods need to be transported carefully while maintaining the standard parameters like temperature. A filtered airflow might even be needed for the goods while making sure that there are no contaminations. This is where the insulated or thermal containers come in as a great solution. They help in isolating the goods from outer weather conditions by sealing them inside.

    - Types: Insulated containers are mostly classified based on their insulations. There are three commonly used insulations i.e. Spray Foam Insulation, Fiberglass Insulation and Rigid Foam.

    1. Spray Foam Insulation: The insulation, a liquid, when sprayed expands to completely seal the openings to the container surfaces. It is one of the most commonly opted solutions for insulated containers.
    2. Fiberglass Insulation: A thermal protection layer is formed in a boxed enclosure using fiberglass insulation. This insulation is cost-effective and easy to install.
    3. Rigid Foam: Foam panels are fit inside the container with the help of adhesive or sidebars. This type of insulation is chosen for space management as it helps to free up storage space.

    Open top containers / Hardtop containers

    - Definition: An open-top container, as the name suggests, has an opening from the top side. It can carry more cargo compared to other containers making it an expensive carrier for the trade. The open side of the container is covered with tarpaulin rubber while the floor is wooden. These containers usually transport raw mining materials, pipes, tools, cable spools, cables, bulky non-uniform cargo, logs, scrap metal, etc.

    - Types: Open top containers are standard in design and any variations might be due to the customizations.

    Flat rack containers

    - Definition: Specialized containers with walls only at short ends. These containers are employed when the cargo is loaded from the top or sides because of its dimensions. These containers are usually employed to transport very bulky cargo like machinery, timber, buses, boats, etc.

    - Types:

    1. Non-collapsible Flat Racks: Fixed Walls at both the short ends and higher top load
    2. Collapsible Flat Racks: Collapsible walls which in turn makes it easier to transport cargo.

    Reefer container / Refrigerated ISO containers

    - Definition : Reefer Container or Refrigerated Containers is a type of Intermodal container used in freight forwarding. They are similar to regular containers however function as large fridges with temperature control used to transport temperature-sensitive cargo like fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy, pharmaceuticals, and flowers.

    - Types: Reefer containers are temperature sensitive containers. 5 commonly used refrigerated cargos are Closed Reefer, Modified/ Controlled Atmosphere (MA/ CA) Reefer Container, Automatic Fresh Air Management Containers (AFAM), Cryogenic Cooling Reefer Containers, and Redundant Refrigeration Reefer Containers.

    Tank containers / Tanks

    - Definition: Tank Containers, as the name suggests, are cylindrical vessels used to deliver hazardous and non-hazardous products. There are various types of tank containers available depending on the product to be transported. These tank containers are built from stainless steel, have a layer of insulation, and an outer protective layer made up of polyurethane or aluminum. The capacity range of these containers is between 10,000 to 26,000 liters, with a maximum gross weight of 30 tonnes. To prevent spillage during transportation, these containers are filled up to 80% of their capacity. Tank containers are used to transport:

    1. Food
    2. Wines & Spirits
    3. Oils and Fuels
    4. Chemicals
    5. Gases and Toxic Substances

    - Types:

    1. Baffle Tanks
    2. Lined Tanks
    3. Heated Tanks
    4. Refrigerated or Cool Tank Containers
    5. Gas Tanks

    High cube containers

    - Definition : High Cube Containers or HC (also called Hi-cube, HQ) Containers are the most commonly used containers. They are similar to standard containers with the only difference it being a foot higher. Due to the extra space, freight forwarders prefer HC Containers as opposed to Standard Containers. Steel or aluminum is used as the primary material while building these containers.

    - Types:

    1. Standard High Cube Containers
    2. Refrigerated High Cube Containers
    3. Side Open High Cube Containers
    4. Double Door High Cube Containers
    5. Pallet Wide High Cube Containers

    Double Door containers / Tunnel containers

    - Definition: Double Door Containers are a modified version of the Standard General Purpose Containers with doors at both short ends. When both the doors are opened, these containers resemble a tunnel and hence, also called Tunnel Containers or Tunnel-tainer. These containers are built from Aluminum or Steel. They are a good choice for quick loading, unloading, and sorting of goods. These containers can be repurposed as general-purpose Dry Containers by closing one of the doors permanently.

    - Types:

    1. Standard Double Door Containers
    2. Double Door High Cube Containers
    3. Double Door Side Open Containers
    4. Double Door Reefer Containers

    Open side storage containers / Side door containers

    - Definition: Side Door or Open Side Containers are yet another modification to the Standard General Purpose Containers. They have doors on the longer side of the container and are used for easy loading/unloading of cargo that does not fit from the shorter end, oversized cargo. These containers have two pairs of doors, normal doors with the breadth and special doors along the length of the containers. The doors of these containers are manufactured from steel or tarpaulin for high durability and tensile strength. To make the container moisture-proof, rubber seals are fitted along the length of the opening.

    - Types:

    1. Standard Side Door Containers
    2. Side Door High Cube Containers
    3. Side Door Reefer Containers

    SECU containers

    - Definition: Stora Enso Cargo Unit or SECU is a special type of Intermodal Container built to ship bulk cargo like paper through Rail or Sea routes. Stora Enso (Forest and Paper Company) invented this container, and the ports used are Finland, Sweden, Belgium, UK, and Germany. Even though SECU looks similar to a standard 40-foot container, it is quite large, measuring 45.28' × 11.81' × 14.35'. It can carry 80 tonnes of cargo. While the dimensions of a standard 40-foot container are 40.0' × 8.9' × 7.9' and can carry 26.5 tonnes of cargo. Due to its large size and tonnage, SECU containers cannot be transported by road and instead, they are transported via railway and sea, using a special crane to load and unload. For rail transportation, special railcars are needed and for the sea, they need truck ferries to load. The benefit of using SECU is that they can handle more product units per container, reducing handling costs.

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    2. Ocean freight containers

    Ocean Freight Containers derive their name from the mode of shipping - Ocean/Sea. These containers are large in size and often standardized in design.

    Dry Van shipping Containers

    - Definition: Dry Van containers are built from aluminum or steel and are recommended for general or dry freight. These containers are watertight with no ventilation system and doors on one side. They can not be used to transport liquid goods. They are also referred to as Dry Cargo Containers and commonly used to ship nonperishable goods.

    - Types: The dimensions and types of the containers are standardized and the variations can be as per the customizations made by the owner or the provider.

    Reefer tank shipping containers

    - Definition: Reefer Tank Container or Refrigerated Tank Containers is a type of Ocean Freight container used in sea shipping. They are similar to regular tank containers but function as large fridges with temperature control used to transport temperature-sensitive cargo like:

    1. All types of Water
    2. Hydrogen Peroxide
    3. Sulphuric Acid
    4. Nitric Acid
    5. Mining chemicals
    6. Food Products
    7. Solvents
    8. Oils
    9. Resins
    10. Alcoholic Beverages

    - Types (Based on the method of cooling):

    1. Closed Reefer Tank
    2. Modified/ Controlled Atmosphere (MA/ CA) Reefer Tank Container
    3. Automatic Fresh Air Management Tank Containers (AFAM)
    4. Cryogenic Cooling Reefer Tank Containers
    5. Redundant Refrigeration Reefer Tank Containers

    3. Other container types

    Drum Containers / Cylindrical containers

    - Definition: Drum containers are cylindrical and are commonly known as barrels. They are made up of steel, fiber, or hard plastic which are strong and durable. These containers are used for storing and shipping bulk cargo like liquids and powders. Drum containers come in small sizes. However, they have a large volume due to their shape and hence require extra space.

    - Types: There are two types of drum containers -- Open Top and Welded Top containers. They are used for all liquids that are dangerous or highly flammable. They can store up to 208 liters of liquid and are 35’ tall and have a diameter of 24’.

    Swap body Containers / Swap bodies

    - Definition: Swap Body is a type of intermodal container used for both rail and road transport. The foldable legs under their frame support these containers in between both the transportation modes. These containers are widely used in Europe. These containers are open from the top and cannot be stacked on top of each other due to their walls’ strength differences. They weigh and cost less than the standard shipping containers.

    - Types: The variations in swap bodies are mostly because of customization. Special swap bodies can differ from the standard ones in terms of the number of doors or sliding panels. Some swap body containers can even have keyholes to extend their application for cargo nets or shoring bars.

    Half-height containers

    - Definition: A half-height container is nothing but general-purpose containers having half their height. Their lower center of gravity and enhanced overall strength allows them to store and transport a considerably heavy load with ease. They are excellent choices for transportations of ores, mined minerals, sand, gravel, machinery, etc.

    - Types: They are only available in open-top formats consisting of no top, removable hardtop, and removable soft top. They have smooth lined internal walls allowing them to be filled and emptied with ease.

    Car carrier containers

    - Definition: These containers are designed to carry cars internationally via rail or road transportation. In some exceptional cases, cars can also be shipped via sea route on a RORO (Roll On Roll Off) shipping arrangement. The name may be suggesting a car however, any type of vehicle or automobile can be shipped via car carrier with minor adjustments.

    - Types: Car carrier containers are dry containers that are available in two sizes i.e. 20ft and 40ft. Selecting the type of car carrier depends on the number and types of cars to be transported.

    Cargo storage roll containers

    - Definition: Cargo Storage Roll containers are specialized foldable containers that are used for the transportation of sets or stacks of materials. These containers are made up of thick and strong wire mesh with rollers at the bottom allowing them to move freely and easily. Its transportation and manufacturing are expensive and hence many companies avoid using these containers. However, certain types of goods demand these containers and hence come in handy.

    - Types: Variations in cargo storage roll containers depend on the number of close sides and the material used for manufacturing the same.

    Intermediate bulk shift containers (IBC)

    - Definition : Intermediate bulk shift containers are pallet mounted and reusable industrial grade containers, specifically made to transport intermediate goods that are liquid or powder in nature. After arriving at the destination, these materials are further packed and shipped to the end-user. They are used to transfer chemicals, solvents, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, etc.

    - Types: They are divided into three types – Rigid, Folding, and Flexible. Rigid IBC comes in two types of storage – 275 gallons and 330 gallons.

    Pallet wide containers

    - Definition: Pallet wide containers are designed for a large number of Euro pallets’ accommodation. These containers are slightly wider than standard ISO containers both internally (2.438m instead of 2.348m) and externally (2.462m instead of 2.4m), allowing them to accommodate a large number of Euro pallets.

    - Types: The types of PW Containers depends on their dimensions. There are three general types of PW Containers:

    1. A 20′ PW which can load 15 Euro Pallets (4 more than a general-purpose 20′ container)
    2. A 40′ PW which can load 30 Euro Pallets (5 more than a general-purpose 40′ container)
    3. A 45′ PW which can load 34 Euro pallets (7 more than a general-purpose 45′ container)

    Special purpose containers

    - Definition: Special containers are customized for a specific cargo transfer. It can come in any shape or dimension according to the requirement of the shipment item.

    • Most companies avoid using it as its manufacturing and transportation is quite expensive.

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